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We watched with anticipation as the boats came around the corner. One moved up and then gently nudged the other causing it to spin around. “Haha! I’m gonna win!” declared my brother.  Sure enough, my boat was now caught in an eddy while my brothers boat drifted down the riffle towards the arbitrarily created finish line.

I waded in the foot deep creek up to where my boat was sitting near the bank and picked up the small toy boat.  “Let’s race again!  I’ll win this time” I said as I ran up the bank with my brother.  And on it went.  I was ten years old, he was five.

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40 years later I found myself listening to my daughter playing with my small nieces  in this same creek. I thought back to the role boats have played in my life during years of visits to the Southern Oregon coast.  It strikes me that our life can be compared to a boat. Unlike kids playing in a creek, we get to chose the kind of boat, or life, we want to be.  I can think of three choices and I can say with certainty that I’ve modeled all three of these boats at various times in my life.

First off, we can be like the toy boat, just floating though time at the mercy of life’s currents. Hoping we don’t get swamped in a wave, stuck on a rock or bumped in an eddy and left drifting in a continuous circle. This would be the person who lets life happen to them. Complaining often that they have no control over anything that happens to them.  There is a reason we quit playing with toy boats in the creek.  We grow up and realize there is more to life then just hoping for the best. Likewise, we shouldn’t be content to just let life happen to us.

Not far from this campground is the Rogue River.  It is the place where my ancestors lived.  As teenagers my brother and I purchased inflatable kayaks.  These represent boat number two. We found a section of the river with riffles, minor rapids and some deep slow pools.

We worked at learning to dodge rocks, move to the center of the small rapids, catch eddies and paddle up river. We even intentionally dumped our boats so we could practice righting it and getting back in.  Good preparation for future accidents.

As I moved on to college my confidence grew. I moved on to bigger rapids until the day I flipped my boat on the upper Klamath River and found myself bouncing off of boulders before I could retrieve my boat.  Thankfully my roommate was able to empty his own boat, which was swamped, and get to me at the point where I had given up. I was weak and battered by the relentless rocks and water and my life jacket was the only thing buying time for me.

Upper Klamath River

We sat on the bank of this river canyon and as I started to recover we asked, “What now.” It was a rhetorical question.  We were in a deep canyon. There was only one option; to get back in our boat and proceed.  We were super cautious and even portaged around the section we had previously labeled the “Black Hole Rapids.”

And therein is the problem with this type of boat.  You have some control but you are still at the mercy of the waves of life.  This where most people live.  They fall into the role of what is expected.  We strive to get a good job, provide for our family, raise our kids. Dodge the rocks that life throws at us.  There is nothing wrong with this.  But what if you had a third type of boat. A power boat.  Now you could dictate, to a large degree, what the river can throw your way.  Like the Steelhead who return to spawn we could use the river like a highway, no longer at the mercy of the flowing water.

Jerry's Rogue River Jet Boats | Mail Boat | Gold Beach, OR

A few years after we floated toy boats, my family took a trip up the Rogue River on jet boats.  Jerry’s Jet boats had developed boats with two inboard 454 cubic inch Chevy engines. They carry 65 passengers. These boats, which still operate today, have the ability to travel up river at over 30 miles per hour and are able to operate in water as shallow as 6 inches.  Custom built by the owners, the boats were the first commercial jet boats to operate on the Rogue River. They operate when, and where, they want and bring joy to thousands of people each year. The design took some trial and error but even more importantly a vision.

It takes dedication to make a life that affects others.  It is the things dreams are made of. Which brings me back to the two young boys in the knee deep water, floating their small plastic boats down the creek. Ask any young boy or girl what they want to be when they grow up.  They don’t feel the limits of the the toy boat or the inflatable kayak.  They will give you big answers and we adults tell them “that’s great, you can be anything you want.”

But somewhere along the line most people walk away from the idea of building a jet boat and instead pick up an inflatable kayak on their way through Wal*Mart.

Like I said earlier, My life has resembled all three boats at times.  As I pass yet another birthday I’m working on building that jet boat.  It’s hard, takes a lot of work and involves trial and error. But I’m stubborn and determined to finish.

How about you? What was your childhood dream?